Queen Elizabeth's remarkable devotion to duty challenges idea that humans are innately selfish – Scotsman comment

In the many tributes to the late Queen, a common theme has been admiration for her devotion to duty.

However, in the society we have built, there appears little faith in the idea that ordinary people can be motivated en masse by what is, for many, an out-dated concept. The word itself has an old-fashioned ring.

The prevailing attitude can be seen in the modern business practice, widely adopted in the public sector, of setting targets and rewarding success with bonus payments. This suggests people are motivated largely by fear – of getting into trouble for falling short of a sometimes-arbitrary target – and greed, rather than a desire to do their job well.

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Altruism may not yet be a dirty word, but there are many who regard those who believe it can be meaningful in the real world as foolishly naive.

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Paying tribute to the late Queen, former Prime Minister Theresa May said she was an “example of devotion to duty par excellence”.

However, she expressed concern about the decline of this virtue: “I think maybe there is a slight loss of that sense of duty. It becomes, for a lot of people, more about them rather than about other people and how they should be... working for other people.”

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If society was entirely made up of people who were ruthlessly self-interested, it would collapse. We need people who are prepared to go the extra mile, unpaid, who think of others before themselves, and who are willing to sacrifice their own interests to help those in need.

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Queen Elizabeth invited Liz Truss, as the newly elected leader of the Conservative party, to become Prime Minister on Tuesday last week (Picture: Jane Barlow/WPA pool/Getty Images)

Fortunately, the country is blessed with legions of such people. The ‘duty’ that all political leaders should shoulder is to encourage their ranks to grow. The myth of humans’ innately selfish nature must be challenged at every opportunity.

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Covid demonstrated just how reliant we are upon one another – not just family and friends, but people we may not know at all, who perform often low-paid jobs that are vital to society as a whole. The common pandemic refrain of “we are all in it together” cannot be forgotten because there will always be some problems that are too big for any individual and require a collective response.

So, as we remember Queen Elizabeth’s devotion to her duty, we would do well to think upon our own.

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